It shouldn't come as a surprise that Sweden had a record number of players selected at the 2013 NHL Draft.
There were 26 players chosen from the country last year, eclipsing the former high of 25 in 2011. In all there were 46 international players chosen in the draft, which represented 21.8 percent of players picked. Three of the seven European skaters taken in the first round were from Sweden: Center Elias Lindholm (No. 5, Carolina Hurricanes), center Alexander Wennberg (No. 14, Columbus Blue Jackets) and left wing Andre Burakovsky (No. 23, Washington Capitals).
Ten players from Finland were picked, equaling the highest total (2011) from that country in the past seven years. The top Euro off the board, in fact, was Finnish center Aleksander Barkov, taken at No. 2 by the Florida Panthers. Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen was selected by the Buffalo Sabres at No. 8. Two of eight players taken from KHL were picked in the opening round: Russian right wing Valeri Nichushkin (No. 10, Dallas Stars) and Slovakian center Marko Dano (No. 27, Columbus).
NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb believes that while there may not be a European superstar at the 2014 NHL Draft, there are several solid prospects.
Here are the top players at each position from the international ranks for the 2014 draft.
Kevin Fiala, LW, HV71 (SWE)
Ranked No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top international skaters, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder had 10 goals, 25 points and a plus-10 rating in 27 games with HV71's team in Sweden's under-20 league. He then had three goals and 11 points in 17 games for HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League. Fiala, who has opened some eyes over the second half of the season, represented his native Switzerland in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, totaling one goal, five points and six penalty minutes in five games.
"He's a quick, smart playmaker with good hands," Stubb said.
William Nylander, C, Modo (SWE)
The 5-11, 169-pounder is No. 2 on Central Scouting's international skater rankings, and had seven points in 22 games with Modo in the SHL. Nylander played with his father, former NHL star Michael Nylander, for part of the season when he was loaned to Rogle in Sweden's second division. He had four goals and eight points in 18 games.
"He's a good, mobile skater with outstanding skills, including smooth hands, vision, puck-handling and shot," Stubb said. "He can also set up scoring chances for teammates and can score in many ways from outside or in traffic. He's very competitive and effective on the power play."
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (FIN)
Kapanen (6-foot, 180) would have played for Finland during its run to the gold medal at the 2014 World Junior Championship had it not been for a shoulder injury. He is Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked European prospect in the midterm rankings. He skated with his father, former NHL player Sami Kapanen, for Kalpa in Liiga, the top Finnish professional league.
Kasperi Kapanen had seven goals and 14 points in 47 games for Kalpa. He missed a few games late in the season to rest his shoulder and will be healthy enough to participate in the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, to be held April 17-27 in Finland.
"He's a good-skating wing and can also play center," Stubb said. "He has a smooth and surprisingly fast style that has surprised many unsuspecting defencemen. His tricky puck skills and quick release have paid off in many games and he has good hand-eye coordination. He's not overly physical, but does not shy away from rough situations."
Sebastian Aho, D, Skelleftea (SWE)
Stubb believes Aho is "one of the most improved 1996-born players in Europe." The skilled two-way defenceman, who lists Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty as his favorite player, was No. 9 on Central Scouting's midterm rankings of the top European skaters.
In 21 games for the Skelleftea in the SHL, the 5-9.25, 165-pound left-hand shot had one goal and five points. He had seven goals, 23 points and a plus-11 rating in 27 games with Skelleftea's junior team.
"He compensates for his lack of size with his positional play, hockey sense, mobility and skating," Stubb said. "He plays a tough, aggressive style of hockey. He plays bigger than he is and with a lot of confidence."
Markus Pettersson, D, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE-Jr.)
The 6-4, 167-pound left-shot defender was No. 10 on Central Scouting's midterm international list. He's versatile with good size and had four goals and 18 points in 38 games for the top junior team in Sweden. He also got into 10 games with Skelleftea's team in the SHL. According to Stubb, Pettersson has shown vast improvement this season.
"He is used in all game situations and has grown up to become a leader on the team," Stubb said. "He's tall and uses a long stick and has a very good reach. He's difficult to pass against and his passing game is very good. He has good size but needs more weight and physical strength. His dad [Daniel] played in the Swedish league with Skelleftea."
Ville Husso, G, HIFK (FIN)
Husso (6-3, 205) entered the 2013 draft No. 6 on Central Scouting's final list of the top European goalies but went undrafted. He improved this season to earn the top spot in Central Scouting's midterm rankings this season. He finished among the top 10 in the top Finnish league in goals-against average (1.99) and save percentage (.923) in 41 games.
He also started two games for Finland at the 2014 WJC, going 0-2 with a 4.68 GAA and .854 save percentage.
BRODIN ADVISES YOUNG EUROPEANS
After being taken by the Minnesota Wild with the 10th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, defenceman Jonas Brodin opted for one more season in Sweden before coming to North America.
It proved to be just what Brodin needed when he played big minutes for Farjestad in Sweden's top league as an 18-year-old and represented his country at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship as well as the 2012 World Championship. He played a key role in Sweden's gold medal-winning effort at the WJC, finishing with four assists and a plus-2 rating in six games.
"There were a few NHL guys from the Swedish Elite League back home who I kept in contact with for advice every so often," Brodin said. "My goal was always to play in the NHL, so I was practicing harder and working harder every day. We have a lot of really good young players entering the NHL from Sweden."
Brodin said the rigors of playing against men in Sweden's top division for a season prepared him for the NHL. But he cautioned that the path he took might not be the proper one for everyone.
"It's different for every player," Brodin said. "For me it was the right time to go over. I stayed one more year in Sweden after my draft year, so for me it was good to stay there and then come over when I felt I was ready. Some guys want to play in the junior leagues over here, but it's hard to say what path is the right one because it's different for everyone.
"My coach in Sweden knew my goals and he set me on that path to get there."
Once he arrived in the NHL, Brodin excelled as a full-time performer last season as a 19-year-old, working predominantly alongside Ryan Suter. He averaged 23 minutes a game and had two goals, nine assists and a plus-3 rating in 45 games in 2012-13. He averaged 26:23 of ice time in a five-game Stanley Cup Playoff series against the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks.
What is his advice for any young European player hoping to make it big in the NHL?
"The biggest thing was to work hard every practice and do the extra stuff after practice," Brodin said. "I worked hard every day in the summer too. That was the main thing I discussed with my coaches back home."
USHL TOP PROSPECTS HONORED
The United States Hockey League honored three blue-chip prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft earlier this week.
Forwards Nick Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers, Sonny Milano of the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team and defenceman Brandon Montour of the Waterloo Black Hawks were recipients of the league's weekly honors at their respective positions.
Milano (5-foot-11.5, 183 pounds), No. 16 on Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters, had three goals and five points in victories against the Omaha Lancers and Muskegon Lumberjacks. The Boston College commit scored a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal in a 4-3 win against the Lumberjacks. The 17-year-old finished his final USHL season second on the team with 39 points in 25 league games.
Schmaltz (5-11.5, 172), No. 19 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, had three goals and six points in three games (2-1-0). Committed to the University of North Dakota, Schmaltz is tied for seventh in the league in scoring with 61 points (17 goals, 44 assists) in 53 games. He is on a four-game point streak, totaling four goals and eight points in that span.
Montour (5-11.5, 186), No. 186 on Central Scouting's midterm list, had four assists and five points in victories against the Des Moines Buccaneers, Sioux Falls Stampede and Green Bay Gamblers. The University of Massachusetts commit leads all USHL defencemen with 45 assists and 58 total points in 58 games, and ranks sixth in the League with a plus-32 rating.
PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
1. Hunter Smith, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL): The 6-foot-6.5, 208-pound right-shot forward, No. 140 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of the top North American skaters, is tied for the team lead in scoring through four playoff games with 10 points (two goals). He had 16 goals (seven power-play goals) and 40 points in 64 regular-season games.
"He's made himself into a player," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He came into the league as a role type of player and worked hard to develop his skill set. He's one of the toughest guys in the league, but complements that with good puckhandling and passing ability. Big guys who are tough and skilled are very valuable in the NHL."
2. Reid Gardiner, C/RW, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): Ranked No. 40 on Central Scouting's midterm list in January, the 5-10.5, 183-pound right-shot forward had 22 goals and 44 points in 70 regular-season games. Considered a smart player with good upside, he also had eight power-play goals and tied for the team lead with two shorthanded goals.
"He was under the radar most of the season as a medium-sized winger who has good, disciplined positional play," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "He's pretty crafty in the offensive zone and gets to the open scoring areas. He's a solid two-way player with a good work ethic. Oddly, he wasn't paired with [Leon] Draisaitl all season, which could have been really productive."
3. Kasimir Kaskisuo, G, Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL): Despite his 1993 birth year, the 20-year-old Finland-born goaltender is draft-eligible because, as per Article 8.4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he is treated as a European player for draft purposes due to him playing previously with Jokerit in Finland during his traditional draft-eligible seasons.
This season, his first in North America, Kaskisuo went 21-6-5 with a 1.48 goals-against average, nine shutouts and .944 save percentage. He will attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2014-15.
"He's a big kid [6-2, 185], is calm, relaxed and patient," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He has a European flair. He hangs back in the paint and uses the butterfly style. He plays a little like Henrik Lundqvist. While he doesn't have outstanding quickness he's smart, efficient and has great net coverage. He's hard to ignore because of his numbers in North America this season."
DRAFT DANDY OF THE WEEK: JAYCE HAWRYLUK
Brandon Wheat Kings center Jayce Hawryluk experienced quite a three-day span last week during the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in the Western Hockey League.
After a hat trick and an assist in a 5-4 victory against the Regina Pats in Game 3 of their best-of-7 series March 26, Hawryluk collapsed in the locker room after experiencing shortness of breath and becoming lightheaded. He was transported to the Brandon Regional Health Centre for further testing and evaluation.
It was thought he would at least be sidelined a few days, but instead he was back in the lineup two days later, scoring a goal and assisting on another to help Brandon complete a four-game sweep of rival Regina with a 5-1 victory.
"I was going to do whatever I could to be in the lineup [Friday] with the guys," Hawryluk told Brandon's CKLQ. "After all the support I've been receiving from them, I want to be there for them. I was able to play so it was good."
Hawryluk, No. 42 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters, led his team with 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) and a plus-16 rating in 59 regular-season games. Twice named the WHL Player of the Week, Hawryluk also had seven power-play goals.
"I would describe my game as a lot like a Brad Marchand or Brendan Gallagher," Hawryluk said. "I'm a gritty, skilled forward with tenacity."
The 5-foot-10.25, 190-pound right-shot forward, who can play left wing and center, is among the top five in the WHL in playoff scoring with 10 points (five goals) through four games. He also has a plus-9 rating.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer